Widowhood Is Not Funny

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Define Normal

Two months after I lost my husband, I kept thinking that soon I'd regain my natural optimism and ebullience for life. I'd feel that familiar contentment over small things, that enthusiasm for all accomplishments. But things were not normal and I wasn't at all sure I would recognize normal, assuming I ever encountered it again.

What really frightened me was the thought that I would never find me again. I had lost my soul mate and it felt like I'd lost myself too. I certainly didn't know that woman in the mirror-the one with the sad eyes and no smile. The woman who barely put one foot in front of the other, who dragged herself from one day to another, from one event to another. Sometimes I would get flashes of what I used to feel, but they never lasted.

I used to pride myself on embracing change. "Change is good," I used to say to my husband. But this was too much change, too sudden, too awful to handle. I wondered if I would feel differently in six months, or a year. But I worried that I'd never regain that optimism, that feeling that life is good and worth living again.

Depression set in, but life went on around me. There were bills to pay, decisions to make, problems to solve. When would my life be normal again? Define normal. Two years later, it still feels as if I'm living someone else's life, the nightmare continues. Sometimes change hurts, a lot.

There's a "new" normal.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

That Was Then, This Is Now

Becoming a widow means coming around 180 degrees in your thinking, a complete paradigm shift, if you will. Nothing is the same as it was before and it never will be again. As each situation arises, your mind automatically goes back to how you handled that particular problem or event before your life turned upside down. However, that won't work anymore. Your life is not the same and neither are you. It's almost as if the old you passed away with your husband and the new improved you has emerged from a cocoon. You feel fragile, uncertain how you're going to deal with life now, maybe even terrified of being alone. But there's no getting around the fact that things have changed. Refusal on your part to change too will lead to yet more fear and uncertainty.

Keep in mind too that it doesn't happen right away, this acceptance of change and the willingness to go along with it. In the first months, all you can think is, "I can't do this, I can't do this by myself!" Up to that life-shattering event, the two of you always handled everything as a couple, and now suddenly, you have to make decisions on your own, life-changing decisions, and there's nobody to help you with that. Now you're single and have to deal with everything on your own. That's scary!

In the first months, you may find yourself unable to focus on much of anything. Your mind flits away from hard tasks. Unwanted thoughts fill your mind and terrorize your soul. Some days, just getting out of bed is a major accomplishment. There are days that seem so bleak, you wonder if you'll survive the sadness. In my case, my family tried to keep me very busy the first month, spending time with me, taking me to lunch or shopping. It was very difficult to concentrate on things and a part of me just wanted to go back to bed and cry. I really wanted just to be alone, which in hindsight was probably not the best idea. Being with other people forces you to deal with the world around you, forces you to focus. Besides, you can't stay in bed forever.

I discovered that even simple things like paying bills, getting the car serviced, dealing with the phone company were so hard. But there are things that simply must be done. There is no getting around it. You're now totally responsible for everything. There is no more division of labor and responsibility. You now have everything you did before and everything your husband did as well. There are some days this can be absolutely overwhelming. In the first months, doing something as simple as getting the car inspected would send me into a meltdown.

Part of the difficulty for the widow is that she's used to taking care of her husband, in many cases for quite a few years. In my case, it was thirty-five years of looking after my best friend and soul mate. Suddenly, I only have myself to take care of, to look after, to be concerned with. Three and a half decades of putting my husband first left a pretty large gap in my life. Of course, it's three and a half decades of him putting me first that throws me into a meltdown. The person who loved me the most is gone from my life. How do I live the rest of my days without him?

That was then, this is now.